Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

 

Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

“Baltic Sea Day” Forum in Saint Petersburg attracts 400 participants, with Baltic Sea Action Plan, hazardous substances, maritime spatial planning and climate change taking centre stage

Attended by about 400 people in person and several hundred more online, the XXI International Environmental Forum “Baltic Sea Day” was held from 23 to 24 March 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia as a hybrid event, with a main focus on the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), both on its current achievements and its now imminent update.  

“The BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM environmental objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for a healthy Baltic Sea,” said the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, Rüdiger Strempel, in his opening plenary address, adding that the update of the plan is already well set to uphold this legacy. The BSAP is due to be updated later this year at the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting.

Besides the BSAP, several round table sessions were dedicated to other pressing issues such as hazardous substances, and specifically on the modernizing of the HELCOM framework dealing with the issue. HELCOM is currently reviewing its processes on hazardous substances to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by the introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.

During the forum, other key discussions touched on river basin management and marine spatial planning, as well as on the implementation of projects conducted by way of cross-border cooperation.

Close attention was also paid to the adaptation to climate change, notably in connection with the implementation of the Agenda 2030 in 80 cities of the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) as well as in light of current trends in Russia.

“Traditionally, the Forum brings together scientists, representatives of government and business, public organizations and everyone who understands their responsibility to future generations for preservation of the unique ecosystem of the Baltic Sea,” said Ivan Serebritsky, the Deputy Head of the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg during his opening remarks. 

Held in a hybrid online and in-person format, the “Baltic Sea Day” Forum was coordinated by the Government of Saint Petersburg, Russia and the State Company “Mineral”, with support from HELCOM, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, and the Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety of Saint Petersburg.

“There’s a long tradition of HELCOM involvement in the Baltic Sea Day Forum that has been held annually since 2000 in Saint Petersburg,” said Strempel, adding that during its 20-year history, the forum has become a key platform for the environmental dialogue at the regional and global level. 

The BSAP update is well on track at HELCOM 42-2021, the annual meeting of the Helsinki Commission

Screenshot of the HELCOM 42-2021 online meeting

More milestones on the now imminent update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) were reached during the 42nd Meeting of the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM 42-2021), held online from 17 to 18 March 2021, keeping the work on the new plan well on track and within the planned schedule. 

second full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented at the meeting. Further refinements will now take place in the various HELCOM bodies tasked with the drafting of the update. The BSAP, in addition to actions and measures, will now also include a list of environmental hotspots that will need to be resolved as part of the plan’s implementation.

The updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is due to be adopted during the next HELCOM Ministerial Meeting which will be hosted by Germany and is scheduled to take place on 20 October 2021 in Lübeck, Germany. HELCOM Ministerials take place every three years and bring together the competent Ministers from the HELCOM countries and the EU Commissioner for the Environment.

Several key processes and documents due to be adopted alongside the updated BSAP and serving as supporting tools to reach its objectives were also green-lighted for further development at HELCOM 42-2021. These include the draft Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy and the draft Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030.

The HELCOM Contracting Parties also approved, in principle, the draft HELCOM Regional Action Plan on Underwater Noise. Due to be adopted in June 2021 by the HELCOM decision-makers pending final refinements, the plan will contain a set of regional and national actions for the monitoring and management of man-made underwater noise in the Baltic Sea.

On hazardous substances, the Contracting Parties agreed to modernize the overall HELCOM framework dealing with the issue, to allow a faster and more efficient response to emerging challenges caused, for instance, by a relentless introduction of new chemicals used in industry and consumer products. The new strategic direction will also enable a better understanding of the full diversity of sources and pathways of contaminants to the Baltic Sea.

Serving as a basis for this decision, HELCOM had, earlier in 2020, drafted a strategic regional policy document on hazardous substances, in cooperation with the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre and with the support of the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM).

In a bid to improve response to spills in the Baltic Sea, the Contracting Parties also adopted the revised HELCOM Response Manual as well as the draft Multi-regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume 2. Both manuals are primarily intended for the authorities dealing with transboundary maritime incidents affecting the waters of several countries and are intended to facilitate the coordination of international response efforts.

At HELCOM 42-2021, the revised HELCOM Recommendation 31E/6 Rev on integrated wildlife response planning in the Baltic Sea area was also adopted. The Recommendation lays out options and strategies for the response to maritime accidents such as oil spills in order to guarantee a swift mobilization of resources to safeguard and attend to affected wildlife.

To improve the protection of habitats and species in the Baltic Sea, the HELCOM Contracting Parties further agreed to cooperate with FAO and IUCN in organizing a regional HELCOM workshop on “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs) in early 2022. OECMs are geographically defined areas other than marine protected areas (MPAs) but that have a positive effect on the conservation of biodiversity.  

The meeting was also an opportunity for the HELCOM Executive Secretary, Rüdiger Strempel, to highlight the achievements of the organization in 2020, noting, in his statement, that “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Corona pandemic, HELCOM work progressed largely as planned in 2020.” The HELCOM Activities report for the year 2020 was also presented on the same occasion.

The outcomes of the recently held HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2021 “Practically Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management” (HSC2021) were also presented. In addition to being one of the HELCOM Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2021, the HSC2021, held as an online workshop, also offered the possibility to gather considerations on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) from stakeholders as possible input for the BSAP update process, the HELCOM Science Agenda and HELCOM’s future work on implementation on the ecosystem approach. The results of the HSC2021 are now due to be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM groups for further consideration. 

The HELCOM 42-2021 meeting was chaired by the Chair of the Helsinki Commission, Lilian Busse, Germany and the Vice-Chair of HELCOM 2020-2021, Mr. Johannes Oelerich, Germany. Attended by all Contracting Parties, it was also the first official meeting for the newly appointed Heads of Delegation of Lithuania and Poland and, Ms. Agnė Lukoševičienė from the Ministry of Environment of Lithuania, respectively Ms. Ewelina Fałowska from the Ministry of Infrastructure of Poland. 

First draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan is unveiled to HELCOM decision-makers at HOD 59-2020

Entering a final stretch, another major milestone was crossed last week when the first full draft of the updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) was presented to the organization’s decision-makers during the autumn meeting of the HELCOM Heads of Delegation (HOD 59-2020) that took place online.

Building on the existing plan, the updated BSAP is expected to maintain and adapt the current structure and segments that seek to reflect the pressures stemming from land (“Eutrophication” and “Hazardous substances and litter”) and from our activities at sea (“Sea-based activities”) as well as the state of the environment (“Biodiversity and ecosystems”).

In addition, the updated plan is due to feature a segment on horizontal actions having an incidence on the four main segments. These are climate change, monitoring, maritime spatial planning, economic and social analysis, and financing.

Furthermore, all measures and actions contained in the new plan are intended to be implemented by 2030 at the latest. 

The updated BSAP is expected to be adopted by the Ministers of the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting that will be held in Lübeck, Germany on 20 October 2021.

With its set of targets for protecting biodiversity and reducing the pressures affecting the Baltic, as well as its number of concrete measures, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for achieving the HELCOM ecological objectives, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation for attaining good environmental status in the Baltic. 

The original plan, adopted in 2007, can be credited with significantly reducing inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances, improving the protection of biodiversity, and boosting cleaner and safer shipping practices. 

At HOD 59-2020, the decision-makers also approved a draft of the HELCOM Science Agenda that is meant to support the implementation of the BSAP and other HELCOM processes, by identifying the scientific knowledge needs related to the Baltic marine environment and which are foreseen to surface in the next 10 years.

Meant to be launched alongside the new BSAP, the first draft of the Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategywas also presented during the meeting. In a bid to curb eutrophication, the strategy seeks to minimize the run-off of nutrients, stemming mainly from agricultural sources such as fertilizers, to the Baltic Sea by keeping them in a closed loop. 

More good news: the Heads of Delegation announced the removal of HELCOM Hot Spot n°42, the Riga wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), from its list of pollution sites

More than EUR 200 million were invested in the plant over the last 20 years, leading to a significant reduction of the discharges of nutrients and hazardous substances to the Baltic via the Lielupe river. The WWTP is now complying with EU regulations and almost fully meets the more stringent HELCOM targets on water purification. 

The Riga WWTP had been added to the list of significant pollution sites due to insufficient treatment of wastewater and a large share of untreated municipal wastewater being released to the environment. 

The HELCOM Heads of Delegation further approved the draft of a key regional instrument for fighting pollution incidents at sea, the Joint Inter-Regional Marine HNS Response Manual which will replace the current HELCOM Response Manual Volume II. A guideline for addressing and coordinating response to major accidents such as oil or chemical spills, the manual is expected to be adopted during the next meeting of the Helsinki Commission in March 2021.

On shipping, and more specifically on the management of ballast water which is a major source of introduction of alien species to the Baltic Sea, the Heads of Delegation further approved the revised HELCOM-OSPAR Joint Harmonised Procedure on the granting of exemptions under International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (JHP).

The procedure is supported by an online decision tool that gives shipping professionals a quick overview of the risk of introducing non-indigenous species (NIS) through ballast water between two ports. Co-developed with OSPAR and recently updated, the tool covers both the North and Baltic Seas.

The collaboration between HELCOM and OSPAR comes at a time when both organizations are actively seeking to strengthen their partnership, a fact particularly welcomed during HOD 59-2020.

Experts from the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina also presented their recent discussion paper on underwater archaeology “Traces under Water”, highlighting the mutual benefits of protecting both the marine environment and underwater heritage from the common pressures arising from ammunitions, ghost nets and eutrophication.

Chaired by Germany, HOD 59-2020 was attended by participants from all Contracting Parties, by Observers from Baltic Farmers’ Forum on Environment (BFFE), Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC), Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference (BSPC), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) & CPMR Baltic Sea Commission, Coalition Clean Baltic (CCB), Cruise Lines International Association Europe (CLIA Europe), Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and by invited guests.

Baltic Sea Action Plan: HELCOM revamps its tool for tracking implementation progress

HELCOM has recently refreshed its HELCOM Explorer tool, an online and open-access database displaying the progress by the HELCOM countries made on the implementation of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

“With the freshly revamped HELCOM Explorer, it’s now much easier to see where we currently stand on the progress we’re making on the agreed actions and measures under the BSAP,” said Susanna Kaasinen who coordinates BSAP activities at HELCOM.

The BSAP is HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions and measures for achieving good environmental status in the Baltic Sea, addressing eutrophication, hazardous substances, maritime activities and biodiversity. 

The BSAP contains both regional actions that are to be implemented jointly by all HELCOM Contracting Parties such as creating new HELCOM Recommendations, as well as national ones that are to be implemented at the country-level such as incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.

Updated on a regular basis, the HELCOM Explorer tool shows the implementation status of both joint and national actions. It also presents the status of selected HELCOM Recommendations as well as on related commitments made at the HELCOM Ministerial Meetings in 2010, 2013 and 2018.

In October 2020, about 70 percent of the joint regional actions and 26 percent of the national actions from the Baltic Sea Action Plan were reported as being fully implemented by all HELCOM Contracting Parties. 63 percent of the national actions were reported as partly accomplished.

The BSAP is due to be updated in 2021.

HELCOM publishes reports on chemical contaminants

In a bid to better understand the effects of certain hazardous substances on the Baltic Sea, HELCOM, in collaboration with Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre, has compiled the latest science on selected chemical contaminants.

The results were published in four reports, namely on dioxins and PCBsbrominated flame retardantsPFOS and PFAS, and diclofenac.

“We must identify the major sources of the hazardous substances and understand how they move in the ecosystems to be able to do something about the problem,” said Emma Undeman, a researcher at Stockholm University and lead author of the reports. 

The reports give insights into the sources and pathways to the sea of the addressed substances, as well as on how their concentrations have changed in the Baltic Sea over time.

Dioxins and PCBs, mainly by-products from industrial processes, primarily stem from atmospheric emissions, further persisting in the environment and accumulating in the food chain. This is a particular cause for concern since these substances are known for their adverse effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine systems of living organisms.

The levels of brominated flame retardants (PBDE) – which are now either banned or regulated but were heavily used in the past as additives to prevent ignition and delay spread of fire such as in furniture and curtains – seem to be declining, but trends show that it could take up to 40 years for these contaminants to reach safe levels in the Baltic Sea.

With regard to PFOS and PFAS, used for instance in metal coatings such as Teflon or in firefighting foams, the main pathways are discharges from wastewater treatment plants, and runoff from contaminated sites via groundwater and drainage ditches. Research on PFOS in Baltic Sea biota further indicates that transport to the sea has dropped but that concentrations have not yet declined, pointing towards a high persistence in the marine environment.

Diclofenac, a widely used painkiller that is water soluble, mainly enters the sea through wastewater treatment plants which have a low removal rate of the drug. Despite good absorption by the human body when ingested, diclofenac is overused, leading to significant excretions reaching sewer systems. Some of the diclofenac in wastewater may also originate from dermal application which has a low absorption rate by the body. 

The four reports support the update of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions for restoring good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment. The BSAP is due to be updated in 2021.

Information from the reports will notably serve to evaluate the efficiency of currently implemented measures under the present BSAP, and for suggesting additional measures needed to improve the Baltic Sea’s state in regard to the reduction of concentrations of hazardous substances. 

Download the reports:

The update of the Baltic Sea Action Plan and UN Voluntary Commitments are addressed at HELCOM’s annual meeting

The high-level representatives attending HELCOM 41-2020. © HELCOM
Back row, from left to right: Nuritdin Inamov (Russia), Jochen Flasbarth (Germany), Katarzyna Krzywda (Poland), Katrine Nissen (Denmark), Silvija Nora Kalnins (Latvia), Vitalijus Auglys (Lithuania) and Harry Liiv (Estonia).
Front row, from left to right: Veronica Manfredi (EU), Gunvor G. Eriksson (Sweden), Saara Bäck (Chair of HELCOM), Terhi Lehtonen (Finland), Rüdiger Strempel (Executive Secretary of HELCOM).

Actions for a healthier Baltic Sea and HELCOM’s Voluntary Commitments to the UN Ocean Conference 2020 were addressed in Helsinki during the Annual Meeting of the Helsinki Commission – the 41st Meeting of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM 41-2020) – that took place from 4 to 5 March 2020.

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) and its update were one of the central themes of the event that also featured a high-level segment attended by high-level representatives such as state secretaries and other high-ranking ministerial representatives of the Baltic Sea countries and the EU. Only Ministerial Meetings rank higher on the HELCOM meeting scale.

“Building on the political will expressed by the ministers in 2018, we are now progressing from words to action, as 2019 marked the beginning of more concrete work on the new BSAP,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, in his statement.

Initially set to achieve its objectives by 2021, the BSAP is due to be updated in 2021 as mandated by the HELCOM Contracting Parties during the Ministerial Meeting held in Brussels in 2018. The past months were characterized by translating the political will expressed in 2018 into a concrete roadmap and actions towards the update, such as the analysis of sufficiency of existing measures

In Helsinki, the high-level representatives recognized that clear progress has been made under the current BSAP during the past 13 years. However, they also acknowledged that the level of implementation has not been fully satisfactory and stressed the need to ensure and accelerate the implementation of the actions under both the current and updated BSAP.

Nevertheless, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for a healthy Baltic, offering a long-term vision and strategic orientation, as well as a wide array of science-based actions and measures. The updated BSAP is expected to include considerations on climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and loss of and disturbance to the seabed, among other pressures.

At HELCOM 41-2020, the representatives particularly highlighted the importance of recognizing climate change as a cross-cutting topic and the need for more knowledge on the impacts and consequence of climate change, therefore regarding the BSAP as an “instrument to strengthen the resilience of the Baltic Sea ecosystem and minimize negative effects of climate change on society,” as stated in the meeting outcome.

Based on the existing plan, the update will maintain at least the same level of ambition as the current plan and include all actions and measures from that plan that have not been implemented yet.

The outcome of the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020, held the day before HELCOM 41 and aimed at gathering input from stakeholders on the BSAP update and that was, was also presented during the session of the high-level representatives who particularly lauded the quality of the engagement of the stakeholders. A total of 49 potentially new BSAP actions were proposed during the event. 

Furthermore, at HELCOM 41-2020, the representatives agreed on submitting five Voluntary Commitments by HELCOM to the 2020 UN Ocean Conference, concurring on: 

  1. updating of the Baltic Sea Action Plan by 2021, 
  2. the development of a HELCOM Science Agenda to contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Science, 
  3. strengthening cooperation with other Regional Seas Organisations, 
  4. offering strong support for global efforts to address the marine litter problem on a global level, and 
  5. organizing a workshop on ecosystem-based management in support of the UN Decade of Ocean Science. 

The voluntary commitments are part of HELCOM’s concrete efforts on global outreach and on advancing the global ocean agenda. 

During the meeting, a number of HELCOM Recommendations were also adopted or revised by the Contracting Parties, such as the Recommendation on Deep-Sea Pilotage in the Baltic Sea (Recommendation 41/1) and the HELCOM Recommendation on the use of national manure standards (adopted in principle). 

A roadmap on the collection of fisheries data to assess incidental bycatches and fisheries impact on benthic biotopes in the Baltic Sea was also agreed on during the meeting, as was the project proposal on the monitoring of pollution loads to the Baltic Sea (PLC-8).

Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, with Rüdiger Strempel, HELCOM’s Executive Secretary. Germany will assume the chair of HELCOM from 1 July 2020 until 30 June 2022, taking over from Finland.

HELCOM 41-2020 also saw the nomination by Germany of Lilian Busse, Head of the Division of Environmental Health and Protection of Ecosystems of the German Environment Agency, as Chair of the upcoming German chairmanship. Germany will take over from Finland on 1 July 2020, for a period of two years.

The representatives further took note of Germany’s will to increase the political visibility of HELCOM work during its chairmanship, with the BSAP being at the centre of the work, further supporting the Parties in its implementation, and extending invitations to civil society and stakeholders to participate in HELCOM processes.

The high-level segment of HELCOM 41-2020 was attended by Katrine Nissen (Denmark), Harry Liiv (Estonia), Veronica Manfredi (EU), Terhi Lehtonen (Finland), Jochen Flasbarth (Germany), Silvija Nora Kalnins (Latvia), Vitalijus Auglys (Lithuania), Katarzyna Krzywda (Poland), Nuritdin Inamov (Russia) and Gunvor G. Eriksson (Sweden).

Baltic Sea Action Plan: New actions are proposed during HELCOM stakeholder event

Over 120 participants attended the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020 © HELCOM

Concrete actions for a healthier Baltic Sea were proposed in Helsinki this week during the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference 2020 that aimed at gathering feedback from stakeholders on the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), HELCOM’s strategic programme of actions, which is due to be updated by 2021.

A total of 49 new actions to be considered for inclusion in the updated BSAP were voiced during the conference, touching upon a variety of topics such as hazardous substances, marine litter, shipping and other sea-based activities, as well as eutrophication and biodiversity.

Climate change was also heavily emphasized during the conference, as was the issue of implementation of BSAP actions at the national level, where stakeholders felt more progress should be made. Better collaboration between ministries and authorities also featured highly on the participants’ wish list, along breaking “thinking in silos” in favour of a more holistic view of protection of the marine environment of the Baltic Sea.

The conference, titled “For a sustainable Baltic Sea: The Baltic Sea Action Plan beyond 2021”, and that attracted over 120 participants from different organisations such as governments, NGOs, academia and industry, was a direct result of the decision recorded in the HELCOM Ministerial Declaration 2018 to include stakeholders in the BSAP update process.

According to the declaration, the BSAP update should “be strongly communicated with stakeholders, enable knowledge sharing between science and policy across all levels, be developed in a participatory and transparent way at the regional and local levels, including all appropriate stakeholders.”

Although its environmental objective to each good environmental status by 2021 is unlikely to be achieved, the BSAP remains one of the most effective instruments for a healthy Baltic. 

“No other plan or programme offers the same long-term vision and strategic orientation, the same agreement on a holistic set of science-based actions and measures for a healthy Baltic Sea, the same regional and cross-sectoral acceptance,” said Rüdiger Strempel, the Executive Secretary of HELCOM, during the conference.

It is expected that the update of the BSAP will include considerations on climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and loss and disturbance of seabed, among other pressures. Based on the existing plan, the update will maintain at least the same level of ambition and include all actions and measures from that plan that have not been implemented yet.

The proposed actions gathered from the Stakeholder Conference will now be forwarded to the relevant HELCOM working groups for further consideration and possible additional development within HELCOM and the BSAP update processes.